Light slowly crept through an open window, shining on the floor. As time passed, it moved through the room, and came upon Andrew’s head. He groaned and turned in his bed, the light blinding even with his eyes closed. He didn’t want to wake up, but the warmth from the sun’s rays made it hard for him to return to sleep.
He pulled back the sheets and climbed out of bed, getting changed into fresh clothes, and walked outside, stomach growling. “I hope they have someplace to eat besides the Mule.” He rubbed his eyes, hair a mess, and walked around, exploring the place a bit before breakfast. It felt like his usual routine. Sunrise woke him, reluctantly he would get out of bed, and before breakfast walk around, letting the sights wake him up.
The morning was fairly quiet, a few people moving about, getting ready for the day. Some nodded to him as they passed, and he waved to them as they went. He walked over to the Deaf Mule, and found it was mostly empty. Looking around the bar, he walked to the counter.
“Hey. Um, where do I go for some breakfast?”
The barkeeper, a bovine, nodded. “We can do that. What’ll you have?”
“How about some... um...” He looked around. “Beef Steak?” He looked at the bovine, concerned he might have asked for something that is taboo.
The Barkeep laughed. “We have that. Don’t worry. Some of us here are carnivores, so we have to eat stuff like that. Its normal. I don’t mind you asking for steak.”
Andrew nodded, sighing in relief, leaning against the counter.
The bovine walked around the counter, saying something to a person in another room, before walking over and sitting down next to him. “You were here last night, right?”
Andrew looked and nodded. “Yeah. I was.”
“Yeah. You ordered the mead, then played Pool against Copernicus. I didn’t get a chance to warn you about his skills.”
“It’s alright. He warned me before the game. Said it was a rule that he never loses. Is there really a rule like that?” Andrew turned to the Bovine. “Um... What is your name? I’m Andrew.”
“I already know your name. Copernicus told me yesterday. I’m Donny, the owner of the Deaf Mule. As for that rule he said, it seems to be a rule. I mean, I can’t explain any other way how he can play so well. It’s like the gods, goddesses, or singular god made this rule in the world that he always wins, and the world follows it.”
Andrew blinked. “Thats weird.”
“It is, but it happens. I mean, stranger things happened, right?” He smiled.
A large cat morph, covered in grey fur with black stripes, came from the back, and set down a plate with a large slice of steak on it, then walked back to out the way it came.
Andrew turned and smiled. “That’s a big slice.”
“We have big cows.” Donny chuckled. “Are you staying here for a few days?”
Andrew sat down, grabbed a fork and knife that came with the plate of food, and started eating. “Um, I’m... I’m planning on staying here for a long time.”
Donny leaned closer to the man. “A long time? You mean that you really are trying to get cursed?”
Andrew stopped, and looked at him. “You sound like you heard about me? Someone told you?”
Donny nodded. “Matthias mentioned you to me and a few other people. He said you were dying and needed prayer? How bad was it?”
Andrew gulped. “Um. Well. It’s pretty bad. If the curse can’t change me, then most likely I’ll die in a month.”
“But why? The curse can change anyone, heal them even. How can it not change you?”
“Because of an ore called Moridanium.”
“What is that? Matthias said something about that too. Negates magical energies?”
Andrew nodded. “It’s also toxic in its raw form. I have pieces in my chest.”
Donnie looked at him, shocked, and then nodded. “Ah. And because of where it is in your body and its properties, it could prevent the curse for changing you.”
“The curse is powerful. There is a chance it will work. It might just need a lot more time or power to overcome the Moridanium.”
“Yeah. Time I might not have.” He went back to his steak. “How many people know about me?”
“Not many, but Matthias will ask as many people as possible to pray for your safe change to happen.”
“Oh. He’s very religious?”
Donny nodded. “That he is. Don’t take it the wrong way. He won’t be forceful in that. Just wants to give hope.”
Andrew took a few bites of the steak, finishing it off. “Thanks for the steak. Tastes delicious. Better than steak I’ve ever had.”
Donny laughed, standing up. “Well, being related to cows, I know how to make one taste delicious.” He chuckled, taking the plate. “See you around, Andrew.” He walk off and put the plate away for cleaning.
Andrew stood up from his seat, and walked outside. As he left the building, he heard someone call his name. Turning to the source, he saw a lizard person walk up to him.
“Hey. Good morning. I was hoping to run into you. You get to see the Keep?” The lizard said.
“Morning. Copernicus, right?”
“Right. Um, no. I haven’t had a chance to see the Keep. In fact, I was just about to walk around and get to know the land.”
“Great!” Copernicus smiled. “I’ll show you around. Come!” He motioned and started walking, Andrew following close on his tail.
Copernicus walked really fast, mentioning the places they were going by with such haste that Andrew could barely keep up. It felt like the tour was over before it started, with them ending back where they started, in front of the Deaf Mule.
“And we’re done. How was the tour?” Copernicus smiled.
“Um... rushed.” Andrew could only say. “Where exactly did we go?”
“The training grounds, the square, and a few other places.”
“Right. I was planning on going to the training grounds and see what they did there.”
“Okay. Have fun.” The lizard man turned and walked into the inn, leaving Andrew there scratching his head, remembering the bald spot Pascal gave him, and walked back into the keep. “I should have gotten a tour from someone else.”
Trying his best to remember that blur of a tour, he managed to make his way to the Training Grounds just as people were walking on. Once again, it was a strange sight to watch as men, women, children, and non-humans came together and did various things, including sparring matches, some going as far as using real weapons and armor. It was easy to tell from the matches who were beginners and who were the masters. Andrew felt a pang of sadness knowing that he might not be able to spar and fight again, and if he did change, he would have to learn all over again.
One person walked over to him, wearing some armor, and sat down close by. “You seem to like watching. You a knight or something?”
“I was. Then I took an arrow to the knee.” He smiled a bit.
The armored figure laughed. “Oh, you too huh? Don’t we all have that. Where did you train?”
“Tuulrith. A distant kingdom.”
“So you’re a long way from home I take it.” The person looked at the ones still sparring. “Were you a fully trained knight or in trainer?”
“I was given the title after I finished training.”
“So why are you a knight no more?”
“Because if I moved around too much, I might dislodge some shards of an ore inside me, and I’ll bleed out internally.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” The figure looked at Andrew.
“It’s alright. If the curse manages to take ahold of me and change me, I might be able to wield a blade again.”
“Well that’s good. I would enjoy seeing what you have to offer.”
“Maybe, but my King has made me Ambassador, though it’s a title I don’t really know how to carry. I feel it’s weight, but I’m unsure how I am suppose to be one.” He shook his head. “The only reason they sent me here was in the hopes that the curse would heal me.”
“Well, don’t give up. This place has its own way of working miracles when you least expect it. Now, I need to give the next lesson to my students.” The person stood up. “I’ll enjoy seeing you later.” With that, the person walked towards the people on the grounds, and with their full attention began instructing them on various things.
The rest of the day went by as Andrew walked around the Keep, getting used to the sights and sounds, and the smells, of the place. It was easier to figure things out this time, not being pulled or dragged along on a whirlwind tour of the place. While walking around, he got to know more of the people here, speaking with them. It seemed that word got around about who he is, and the reasons he was there.
It felt a little uncomfortable with people knowing him, rumors spreading about him, but he also knew that in the end, he would have to get to know most of them. By day’s end, the sun was over the horizon, and Andrew was exhausted. Walking back to his room, he noticed a familiar face.
“Marlun? Is that you?” He walked over to the figure that was leaning against the wall beside the door to his room.
The person looked up, and smiled. “Hey Andrew. How are you settling in?”
“I’m fine. When did you get here?”
“I just arrived to check up on you. I asked around and people seem to know about you. Seems you made quite an impression.”
“No. I just told a few people about myself, and they just told others.”
“That would explain why some got the facts wrong. You going to invite me inside? I was told this was your room.”
“Yes. Come in.” Andrew opened the door and motioned for Marlun to enter.
Stepping inside, Marlun looked the place over. “Well, certainly isn’t as good as my room back in town, but it’s nice.” He walked to the table and sat down beside it. “Listen, Duke Thomas said something recently. He told me that there were some attacks in the area over the past few days. He said that it might be best to limit travel to and from the Keep for the time being, unless I have an escort. Same would be for you.”
Andrew sat down, thinking about this. “Oh. Well, this place always does have attacks, right? After all, it was that wizard Naroj’s plan to destroy this place and take over the Southern lands, and our home.”
Marlun shook his head. “No. These attacks seem more random, smaller than something like a plot for world domination. But these all have one thing in common. Some people have died from the attacks, but the bodies are mutilated. The weird thing is they always are missing something of them. Rarely the same thing, but Duke Thomas said that the murdered are being harvested, body parts taken, for some reason. And it seems to involve magic, because there is no knife marks on them.”
“No knife marks? But how do they take body parts?” Adrew asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“It all seems to point to magic. The body parts seem to be magically removed for the corpses. Duke Thomas only asked that I keep this between us, but I feel you might need to know. Please don’t leave the Keep, Andrew.” He waved a finger at his friend to emphasize his point.
“I’m not planning to. But what about you? You have to head back to town.” He looked at Marlun, concerned.
“That was discussed too. He invited me to stay the night. Personally, I’d choose to go back to the inn in town, but by the time I’d arrived they would have locked the doors. I’m right next door for the night.”
“Great. A place where I can find you.”
“I’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning, preferably before the sun is up. I won’t bother trying to wake you, since I know you prefer to sleep in.”
Marlun stood up from his seat. “It’s nice to see your handling yourself here. Listen, I know you’re going to have trouble being an ambassador, so let me give you some advice. Don’t promise things you know you can’t follow through with. If in doubt, say that you’ll need to speak with your uncle before you can decide. And if you don’t have time to do that, then try your best. Diplomatic relations is a fickle thing and always changes with time.”
He patted Andrew on the shoulder and walked out of the room, leaving Andrew to muse over the words.
“Yeah. Easy for you to say.” Andrew walked over to one of his boxes, and pulled out a small flask that looked like the one he carried on him. He then grabbed the one he carried, and emptied it in his mouth before putting it where the other flask was, and placed the new one in the pouch on his belt before taking off his clothes and climbing into bed.
His mind was uneasy. What Marlun told him was on his mind when he slept, and it affected his dreams. He was with Marlun, walking with him and a bunch of others, all strangers to him, when suddenly they were attacked out of nowhere. Faceless men appeared out of nowhere, surrounding them. Magic could be felt as the people Andrew was walking with were magically bound, their possessions stripped of them until all they had was the clothes on their backs, and killed as magic took something from them. It came down to Marlun and him, and he watched, the world slowing, as his friend fell before him, his chest open, heart missing.
The strangers turned to Andrew, and the energy of their magic was felt on him. But he was still standing. He didn’t feel himself being held against his will, dying from some extraction of a body part. He didn’t understand why, but their magic wasn’t working on him. The faceless men appeared shocked by this, and before he could act, they all vanished, leaving Andrew surrounded by dead mutilated bodies.
Everyone, including his friend, were dead, and by some fate he was spared, let to live and remember this. How could he be alive? He wasn’t wearing anything magically resistant. How could he have lived? Only thing that he had was inside him.
It dawned on him. The Moridanium. What was slowly killing him had saved his life instead. Their magic didn’t affect him because the ore was absorbing the energies. That’s why he felt it. But if only the others had some, they would have survived, and even been able to fight back.
Suddenly the world brightened, blinding him, and he opened his eyes to see the sunlight shining in through the window. It had only been a nightmare. A terrible nightmare, but it gave a revelation, an answer.
He bolted out of bed, putting on some clothes as quickly as possible, and ran to the Keep Halls, hoping to run into Duke Thomas, and also hoped Marlun hadn’t left yet.
Andrew burst into the hall, panting, and saw Thomas there, looking at him with a surprised look on his face.
“Duke Thomas! I... I have something!” He said, gasping for air.
“Something? What do you mean?” Thomas said, rising from his seat.
“The Moridanium. It can be useful. The...” He coughed. “The people who are randomly attacking... The... They take things. Take things using magic.”
“Yes. Go on.” Thomas nodded.
Andrew stopped and caught his breath. “We can make those bricks of Moridanium into small items that your guards and scouts can carry on them, in places safe and hidden, to protect themselves from this magic.”
Thomas rubbed his chin, thinking about it. “Yes. Yes, that would work.” He nodded. “It would prevent these... attackers from being able to kill any more of my people.” He smiled. “Thank you. It seems like you're coming here is answer to our prayers. We never could get a face off the attackers, but now we will have something to fight them with.”
Andrew sighed, smiling. “Good. I’ll go speak with the Smith about what to do.”
Duke Thomas nodded. “I’ll come with you.”
They walked out of the hall and through the Keep to the Smith.
“Gordon?” Thomas called out. “Gordon, you there?”
“I’m here! Come on in!” The Smith replied.
They both walked into the building, and into where Gordon stood.
“Need anything?” He asked, looking at the two.
“Gordon, how soon can you make things out of the brick of Moridanium?”
Gordon looked at Thomas, surprised. “I don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to look at them closely. I don’t know how hot I would have to make the furnace and how to mold them.”
Andrew stepped forward. “The refined ore was made to be smithed like any other metal. It’s as durable and malleable as steel. It just takes a lot more of the ore. Nobody knows why.”
Gordon nodded. “That simplifies things. I can make a few pieces of armor by the end of the day.”
Thomas shook his head. “No. We don’t need armor. We need something smaller, something people can carry on them but be easily hidden.”
Gordon thought about it. “I could make simple trinkets, accessories.” He turned to Andrew. “Would it be any problem if they were mixed with gold?”
Andrew shook his head. “Not at all. The Moridanium is very valuable, and some kingdoms have asked for it already made into various things. We use gold and silver to line a suit of armor and give it a nice look.”
Gordon smiled. “I bet that came in handy. Then I’ll see what I can do. What about best effect? How much Moridanium will be required for maximum protection from magic?”
Thomas stood there, smiling and watching as the other 2 talked.
“About a 3 inches long and maybe half an inch thick will suffice.” Andrew replied.
“Excellent!” Gordon smiled. “If I do it right, I’ll have about 13 pieces for you by day’s end, Thomas.” He looked at the horse.
Thomas nodded. “Good. I’ll leave you to it. I want about 20 of them. Leave the rest of the bricks alone until we know for certain we will need more.”
“Will do.” Gordon nodded and walked off to where he stashed the bricks.
Thomas looked at Andrew. “Are you wanting to catch your friends and get them back here as soon as possible?”
Andrew nodded. “Yeah. That nightmare was really startling. Real even.”
Thoms raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say a word about it. “Head to the stables. You’ll find them near the entrance you came from.”
Andrew turned and ran as fast as he could, weaving around people and quickly made it to the stables. He caught his breath for a minute, and walked up to the stable hand.
“I need a horse.”
The stable hand looked at him, nodded, and helped saddle one of the animals.
“Thank you.” Andrew climbed onto the horse and galloped out of the Keep, down the path towards the port.
Andrew rode on as long as he could, and came to a stop after what seemed like an hour. These scenery was the same from the dream.
He climbed off the horse, and slowly walked around, walking off the path. It was exactly like the dream. As he walked, he felt a chill pass through his spine. Something wasn’t right. He couldn’t put it down to anything. He just felt that something bad was going to happen.
He didn’t get too far before he found out why he was feeling uneasy. It was a horrible sight. Before him were the bodies of the escorts, and Marlun, all dead, exactly like the dream though without holes in their bodies. Looking around quickly, he tried to see if someone else was here with him, but only saw dead bodies.
He moved over to Marlun’s body, knelt down, and looked his dead friend. He was laying face down on the ground. Kneeling down, he carefully turned Marlun’s body over, and saw his face. Marlun didn’t look scared or in pain. His face was slightly peaceful. Shaking his head, Andrew fought back tears. He had lost a friend.
Andrew stood up, and turned around when he heard a rustling of leaves . He looked around, and then saw a large group of people appear. He relaxed when he saw that it was people from the Keep, having caught up with him. They surveyed what happened with solace, apparently having seen this before.
One of them took of their helmet, revealing a wolve’s muzzle. “Another attack.” The wolf shook his head and walked up to Andrew, placing a hand hand on his shoulder. “Go back to the Keep. We’ll take care of this. You shouldn’t have to see this.”
Andrew looked at the soldier. “I’ve seen more than my fair share.”
The wolf simply nodded. “Still, you’re not a knight anymore. You’re a diplomat. Go.” He motioned for Andrew to go back to the horse he left by the side of the road.
Andrew went back to the Keep, and was in his room, sitting at the table. What had happened was scary. Not just the fact that it happened, but the dream he had. It was almost exactly the same. And not only that, but it felt like it happened at the same time, while he was asleep.
He didn’t understand how that happened. He never had something like that happen to him before, and the ones he heard about required magic. He had no magic. He couldn’t even have magic used on him to see that. Not with the Moridanium inside him.
He looked outside through the window, seeing the sun was high in the sky, and realized it must have been noon now. He had missed breakfast. Leaving his room, he walked to the Deaf Mule for something to eat, and something to take his mind off the death of his friend.
He walked into the bar, and saw a bunch of people around a pool table, Copernicus there too, though they weren’t playing the same version of pool as before. He walked over to them, and watched.
“Hey Andrew. We’re playing a version of pool. 9 ball. It’s like the normal version, but you have to knock the 9 ball in instead of the 8, which is out of this game.” Copernicus said when Andrew approached the table.
“Oh. Nice.” Andrew nodded, looking at the table.
Copernicus walked around, peering at the table intently, and set up for his shot. Pulling back, he knocked the white ball. It spun around on the table, hitting another ball, and bounce into a pocket.
“Crap.” Copernicus swore. “Again with the pocket.” He shook his head.
Another player, this one looking like a spider person, with 6 arms and 2 legs, walked up to the table, laughing. “Copernicus, you know you only win at standard pool games.” The spider said before setting up his shot.
“No. The rule is I always win at 8 Ball. Other games I have a chance of losing. There’s a difference!” Copernicus replied
The spider man scoffed, and readied his shot. A quick pull, and a few turns later, the game was over with Copernius the loser.
Copernicus nodded and shook hands with the spider person. “Good game.”
The other player nodded, smiling, before setting his pool stick down and walking to a table.
Copernicus took the extra stick, and walked over to Andrew. “What brings you here around this time?”
“I don’t know. Just felt like I need something to do. Something to distract me.” Andrew looked at the table.
“Distract you? From what exactly?” The lizard held out the extra stick to Andrew.
“I was there. I saw my friend and his escorts. Dead.” He looked at the stick.
“Oh. You mean... what’s been happening outside. I’m sorry to hear that.” He gives the man a gentle pat on the back. “Let’s play a game of 9 Ball. It will help take your mind off of things for a while. You will have a chance of winning.”
Andrew took the stick, and looked it over. While he was doing that, Copernicus got the table set up.
“I’ll break.” Copernicus said, already in position.
Andrew turned and watched as the lizard knocked the white ball towards the others. They collided, and scattered, a solid falling into a pocket. “Heh. Alright.”
Copernicus moved around, and knocked 2 more solids into pockets before knocking a stripe in, giving Andrew his turn.
Andrew observed the table carefully, trying to look at what he can do. He stopped and rubbed his chest, still feeling the unusual warmth from it, before setting up his shot. He hit the ball a little hard, causing it to bounce off the sides of the table. It managed to hit a striped ball, and causing it to fall into a pocket while the white ball stopped.
Copernicus nodded. “Good. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think you had practice. That kind of shot usually doesn’t work.”
Andrew looked the table over, and found the only shot he could do was on the other side of 2 solid balls, barring the way.
“You can make the ball bounce. You just have to hit below the middle of the white ball.” Copernicus said.
Andrew looked up at him, then back at the ball, nodding, before setting up his shot. The cue was angled, aimed below the middle, and with a hard tap knocked the white ball over the 2 solids, hitting the striped, which rolled into another pocket.
“Wow. You’re a natural.” Copernicus said, impressed by the display.
“When I try to get distracted, I really focus on what I’m doing.” He walked around. “Hmm. I’m not going to be able to make this shot.” He looked around the table. “This is going to be tricky.” He leaned over, peering at the table at different angles, before settling on a shot.
He set up and knocked the white ball, causing it to roll around on the table and hit another striped ball, which bounced about and tapped a solid, but neither went into a pocket. The white ball came to a stop by a corner pocket, just before the edge of falling in.
“Impressive.” Copernicus said, walking to the corner of the table. “You did a safety. You moved the ball to where I would have trouble making a shot. Too bad I can get out of this.” He smiled before knocking the white ball around. It rolled, hitting one solid ball, causing it to roll into a side pocket, then rolled into another solid ball, knocking both balls into a corner pocket. “Only down side is that I Scratch the ball.”
Andrew looked at him. “Scratch the ball?”
Copernicus nodded. “Scratch the ball. That means causing the white ball to fall into a pocket. My turn ends, and you can set the ball up anywhere you want on the table, behind those to marks on the side.” He tapped the marks on the table with his stick. “Reach down at the end and grab the white ball, then set it down on the table, putting it where ever you want to give you a good shot.”
Andrew walked to the end of the table, reached down and pulled out the ball, and set it down. He looked at the balls on the table, and carefully moved the ball around to where he could get a good shot. He set up and knocked a few striped balls into their pockets, leaving only the solids and the 9 ball there.
Copernicus sighed. “It looks to me that you’re about to win.”
Andrew didn’t respond, as he didn’t have a clear shot for the 9 ball. He gently tapped the white ball, making it roll only a little bit across the table. This caught the lizard by surprise.
“What are you doing?” He asked, looking at Andrew questionably.
“Making it harder for you to make a good shot.” Andrew smirked.
Copernicus looked the table over, and realized that what Andrew said was true. “Hard, yes. Impossible however, is another story.” He smiled and set up. He carefully measured the shots, distances, and angles, and managed to knock in 3 more solid balls, but was unable to knock in another one.
“Crap.” He sighed.
Andrew moved up to the table, finding he had a clear shot to the 9 ball, and took it. The balls rolled across the table, the 9 ball falling down a pocket, while the white one gently bounced off the sides, coming to a rest dead center of the table.
“Wow. Now that’s an impressive feat.” Copernicus watched. “I’ve never before seen someone end their shot with the white ball in the very center of the table. That’s hard to pull off even for a professional.”
Andrew looked at him. “I wasn’t trying to do that. I just wanted to win.”
“And win you did.” Copernicus smiled, holding out a hand. “Congratulations. You beat a professional player at a game of 9 Ball. How does it feel.”
Andrew shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t feel any different.”
Copernicus laughed. “Don’t worry. By the end of the month, you’ll feel very different.”
The cat person from the day before walked over with a large tray full of soup and beer, set it down on the pool table, and walked away.
“I hope you don’t mind, I ordered us something to eat. I expected it here before we finished the game, but it seems this game was shorter than I expected.” Copernicus laughed, taking a bowl of soup and slowly eating it.
Andrew picked up the other bowl, along with a spoon, and started eating at it and sipping the liquid. It tasted very delicious, seasoned just right for flavor, though it was a little hot. He set the bowl down and took a sip of the beer. It was very cool, flowing down his throat and into his stomach, cooling him down a bit.
They sat by the pool table, continuing to eat and drink, and even go back to playing pool. They spent the day just eating, playing pool, and getting drunk. The more drunk they got, the more their games of pool got interesting. It came down to near the dead of night, when Donny had to get them out of the inn, outside into the cold night air.
Copernicus hiccuped, and looked at Andrew. “How was... how was your...” He hiccuped again. “...game?” He smiled, tipsy.
Andrew leaned against the building. “Fun.” He groaned, trying to keep himself from falling over.
“Has.... Has the game... help you any?” Copernicus said, stumbling over to Andrew.
“Y-yeah. I guess.”
“Andrew.” Copernicus blinked, trying to focus. “People.... die. It always happens. Nobody lives forever. Nobody is.... nobody is immortal.” He turned around and leaned against the wall of the Keep. “Your friend.... you said during the game he was a good friend.”
“Yeah.” Andrew tried sitting up. “He was. A great friend.”
“Hon... honor his memory. Honor his... life.” Copernicus looked to Andrew. “And enjoy your life, no matter how short or long it may be.” He smiled.
Andrew looked at Copernicus, and carefully pushed himself off the wall. “O-okay. I’ll... do that.”
Copernicus hiccuped, holding up his cup. “Too good and departed friends.” He smiled.
Andrew nodded, holding up the cup he held. “Here... here.”
Copernicus downed the drink, and walked away, while Andrew carefully made his way back to his room, throwing up halfway through on the side of the path he took. He walked into his room, not even taking off his clothes, and went head first into his bed, out like a light.